Take Note!

Mar 18, 2021

An essential habit for students to develop, from as early as Grade 3 or 4, is that of note taking. This is a skill which helps students to retain information and to process it in a meaningful way. There has been some debate about whether taking notes on a device like a laptop or a tablet is as efficient as using good old fashioned pen and paper, and the experts all seem to agree that the benefits of pen and paper far outweigh the convenience of digital notes.

Taking longhand notes encourages students to be more present and to listen carefully for important information. While it is impossible to write down every word a teacher or lecturer says, the advantage of this is that students are encouraged to listen for the salient points and be concise in their thoughts. The brain has to engage in ways that it wouldn’t do if students had access to all the information at a later time. It means that important thinking is being done during the lecture, which has more chance of being understood and retained later. This kind of focus will really help students in all sorts of ways.

Most of us type faster than we write. Note taking on a device, then, is often transcription. However, when we take notes, we have to process the information. It helps us to syphon the important information out of the fluff. The critical thinking skills involved in note taking will stand students in good stead throughout their lives. These include summarising, paraphrasing, organising and manipulating information, which all contribute to better comprehension.

Physical note taking is also associated with better memory retention. The brain-eye-hand coordination actually plays a part in information retrieval later on. Your brain is more likely to recall information that you have written by hand than information you have typed. The focus and critical thinking required also contributes to information retention.

Pen and paper note taking also boosts creativity. Doodling can help your brain to digest and process information better. It can allow your mind to make connections between concepts and ideas. It gives you access to instant formatting - writing LARGE or underlining, sketch drawing and highlighting without having to fiddle with computer settings. Have a look at this TED talk by Sunni Brown about the benefits of doodling: Sunni Brown: Doodlers, unite!

Once good notes are taken, turning them into digital notes on apps like Evernote might help to store them in a safe place. But the benefits have already been experienced by that point. I was reminded by a young teacher recently of the Chinese proverb:

"By engaging in their own learning, students are developing thinking skills and techniques which will help them for the rest of their lives. "

For an excellent note taking strategy, check out the Cornell note taking technique:

Note taking is doing. It is involving. It’s definitely something that will benefit students.

Have a beautiful day.